John Berney Crome, “Great Gale at Yarmouth on Ash Wednesday,” 1836
John Berney Crome’s Great Gale at Yarmouth on Ash Wednesday invites us into the Lenten season with a story told in the visual language of romanticism. This style of painting often showcased strong emotion through the power and majesty of nature. Crome preferred marine and coastal scenes, as in the case of this turbulent depiction of clouds and waves converging on the coast of Yarmouth.
The main forces in this scene are the waves and the clouds. The clouds, dynamic in their movement, communicate the unseen power of the wind. That wind stirs up the waves that toss the boat on the left and sprays water forcefully against the row of coastal houses on the right. This all brings to mind a battle between nature and the human-made elements of the scene.
The clouds are varied: large white clouds in the back against patches of sky are overshadowed by dark storm clouds in the front. These storm clouds are slanted and purging themselves of rain in the wind. The central black cloud is especially imposing; it is smeared, in the shape of a cross, much like the sign marked on foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday’s second reading calls out with urgency: “now is the acceptable time…now is the day of salvation.” Lent calls us to conversion, and conversion without delay. The path to the Easter font, though, is often through turbulent waters. Like the boat in Crome’s painting, we are tossed in the waves of our own desires and follies. Or, like the shore houses on the right, we are assaulted by our temptations and selfishness. Ash Wednesday is the day to face these anew with the belief that the wind is not a threat, but perhaps the breath of the Spirit that seeks to drive away all that keeps us from the fullness of life.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
In the seasonal lesson for Lent in Christ Our Life, Grade 6, young people discuss the meaning of the Sign of the Cross traced on our forehead on Ash Wednesday. Lead a discussion with your class. Say: On Ash Wednesday, after we have received the blessed ashes on our forehead, we think about God’s mercy and love for us. Why do you think the priest traces the Sign of the Cross with the ashes? (It reminds us that God sent us his Son to be our Savior. It reminds us that we are saved through Jesus’ Death on the Cross.)
We also thank Jesus for his love and tell him how much we love him. We remember that he rose from the dead to a new life and that someday we will live with him forever in heaven.
Distribute paper crosses to the students. Invite them to write a prayer on their cross, asking for God’s love and mercy in their lives.
Conclude in prayer. Have the students place their paper crosses in a basket in front of a cross or crucifix that you have displayed in the prayer center. As they do this, play reflective music or a song of repentance. Conclude by praying together an Act of Contrition.